Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938

René Magritte. _Au seuil de la liberté (On the Threshold of Liberty)._ London, 1937

René Magritte. Au seuil de la liberté (On the Threshold of Liberty). London, 1937

Oil on canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mary and Leigh Block, 1988

Narrator: In 1937, Magritte received one of the most important commissions of his career, executing three monumental paintings for the British collector Edward James, two of which are displayed here. James hung the paintings behind two-way mirrors, surprising guests by revealing them with the flick of a light switch.

Curator, Art Institute of Chicago, Stephanie D'Alessandro: One of the interesting things is to look at the many techniques that Magritte uses. So, for example, the female torso: it's a very beautiful, very soft quality that he creates, and one very much keeping with the subject matter of human flesh. But if we look just next to it at those wood planks, you'll see a different kind of technique that Magritte is using, one of very thin washes to create these very flat and yet nuanced layers of grain.

Narrator: Magritte's commission referenced the tradition of French décorations, interiors decorated with images meant to inspire.

Stephanie D'Alessandro: Here Magritte again is playing with expectation. Something that should be uplifting, something that should be pleasing, becomes something disquieting, dramatic, strange. And I can't even imagine how amazing it would be to have walked into a ballroom and to see mirrors, and suddenly for the lights to change, and feel that the space that we're inhabiting has completely become something else.

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